Optimising medicines administration for patients with dysphagia in hospital: Medical or nursing responsibility?

David Wright, David Smithard, Richard Griffith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
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Dysphagia is common—not only associated with stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s but also in many non-neurological medical problems—and is increasingly prevalent in ageing patients, where malnutrition is common and pneumonia is frequently the main cause of death. To improve the care of people with dysphagia (PWD) and minimise risk of aspiration and choking, the textures of food and drinks are frequently modified. Whilst medicines are usually concurrently prescribed for PWD, their texture is frequently not considered and therefore any minimisation of risk with respect to food and drink may be being negated when such medicines are administered. Furthermore, evidence is starting to emerge that mixing thickeners with medicines can, in certain circumstances, significantly affect drug bioavailability and therefore amending the texture of a medicine may not be straightforward. Research across a number of hospital trusts demonstrated that PWD are three times more likely to experience medication administration errors than those without dysphagia located on the same ward. Errors more commonly seen in PWD were missed doses, wrong formulation and wrong preparation through medicines alteration. Researchers also found that the same patient with dysphagia would be given their medicines in entirely different ways depending on the person administering the medicine. The alteration of medicines prior to administration has potential for patient harm, particularly if the medicine has been designed to release medicines at a pre-defined rate or within a pre-defined location. Alteration of medicines can have significant legal implications and these are frequently overlooked. Dispersing, crushing or mixing medicines can be part of, or misconstrued as, covert administration, thus introducing a further raft of legislation. Guidance within the UK recommends that following identification of dysphagia, the ongoing need for the medicine should be considered, as should the most appropriate route and formulation, with medicines alteration used as a last resort. The patient should be at the centre of any decision making. Evidence suggests that in the UK this guidance is not being followed. This article considers the clinical and legal issues surrounding administration of medicines to PWD from a UK perspective and debates whether medicines optimisation should be the primary responsibility of the prescriber when initiating therapy on the ward or the nurse who administers the medicine.
Original languageEnglish
Article number9
Number of pages10
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • dysphagia
  • medicines administration
  • formulation alteration
  • CARE

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